Monday, 28 March 2011

Festival Fallout

I'm writing this post whilst I'm still awake (and scheduling it to appear at its usual time) because if I go to sleep now, without having written it, I'm not sure when I shall wake up. I've spent the last three days at the Festival of Writing in York and these events are informative, amazing opportunities, great fun and blooming knackering! You don't realise how far you walk at these events, between workshops, talks, lectures and meals! (I took over 10,000 footsteps on Saturday!)

I'll be reveal more about the advice given at these various workshops over the coming weeks, but I thought I'd offer you a taster here, now, whilst much of it is still fresh in my head. (It's going to take a while to go through all of my notes!)

In the picture on the left, on stage are Carole Blake, one of this country's most important and influential literary agents (she is the agent for Barbara Erskine, and has been for the past 32 years), and Patrick Janson-Smith, a publisher, who spent around 25 years in charge of the Transworld imprint, part of Random House. (Patrick published and helped launch the careers of some authors you may have heard of: Terry Pratchett, Bill Bryson, Andy McNab).

Both expressed the importance of writing the best book that you can write. And when you've written it, edit it hard to ensure that it is as polished as it can be? Why? Because not only are you competing with all of those other new, wannabe writers, but you are also competing with the big, already established, authors too.

British books actually sell well in Germany, France, and Italy, in fact one of Carole's clients sells tens of thousands of copies of her books in the UK, but hundreds of thousands of copies in Germany. (If you've ever wondered, it is the foreign publisher who pays to provide a 'full and fair' translation of the text.)

Patrick explained that authors are now expected to be 'performance artists'. That doesn't mean to say that you have to appear on television quiz show panels, or literature festivals, (although many will be pleased if you do) but blogging, tweeting and social networking is becoming vital for authors. Carole then interjected to say that because of this, agents were now pushing for changes in contracts. A full time novelist, for example, may be previously have been expected to produce a novel every 12 months. But with all of this extra promotional (or performing) activities, agents are trying to get this treadmill extended to a novel every 18 months. Authors are finding it increasingly difficult to find the time to write the novels, because of the constant promotional work now required!

E-books were mentioned many times. In America, e-books account for 50% of total sales for some titles. E-books are coming and there's no escaping them.

This panel discussion here included: Donna Condon, editor at Piatkus Books, Beverley Birch, editor at Hodder Children's Books, Hannah Westland, agent at Rogers, Coleridge and White, Piers Blofeld, agent at Sheil Land, and Jonathan Telfer, editor of Writers News / Writing magazine.

They discussed the benefits and drawbacks of E-books, stating that most saw E-books were seen as an opportunity. They believed that E-books meant that more authors would be bought, tried and tested, which could lead to more books being sold overall (both print and in electronic format). However, they also warned against authors uploading their own text onto platforms such as Amazon and offering it for free, or cheaply, for less than £1. This, they said, undermines the e-book market, which not only affects traditional authors, but ultimately all authors, including those uploading their texts online. Both agents and publishers are against devaluing an authors work. Now, many people will disagree with that and everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but it may be something you want to bear in mind, if you're toying with the idea of 'whacking' your text onto the Internet to see if it gains any interest from the public before approaching an agent or a publisher. Their message was, "don't."

Want to be demoralised? Agents take on, roughly, one new author for every one thousand manuscripts they read.
It's common for festivals to offer 'goodie bags' and the York Festival was no different. Here are the two hardback books and five paperback books that were in my goodie bag. I have plenty of reading for the next few months!

I had an opportunity to discuss my novel with a London agent, and a 'book doctor' (editor) which I found immensely useful. These ten-minute one-to-one chats with these experts are nerve-wracking. Some writers received positive comments, whilst others had their dreams dashed. It can be emotional in many ways, going to an event like this. And of course, it's an opportunity to meet lots of other writers and make new friends. It does mean that the nights are late (which doesn't help when the event takes place over the weekend when the clocks go forward for British Summer Time).

Any networking opportunity can help your writing dreams. And over the next few days, many of the agents here will be receiving letters from festival attendees beginning with phrase, "It was great to meet you at the Festival of Writing at York last weekend. As promised, pleased find enclosed the first three chapters and synopsis of my novel ..."

These events are an investment in your writing career.

Good luck.


  1. Agreed! But far too tired for any further comment! :)

  2. Oh, interesting post. Thanks for sharing.